“Rebellion is not Terrorism”

October 8, 2022

Rebellion is not terrorism- an insight of the recent Manila Court ruling dismissing the proscription case against the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) filed by the Department of Justice (DoJ) in 2018 under Section 17 of the Human Security Act (HSA).

According to the decision, the CPP-NPA must “indubitably” qualify as an organization whose members include farmers, workers, students, academics, professionals, and politicians. The court observed that members of the communist group were dispersed throughout the country with a well-established, hierarchical and organizational structure.

The CPP-NPA’s program also shows that it is organized not for the purpose of engaging in terrorism. It further said that “armed struggle” is only a “means” and not a purpose to achieve the CPP-NPA’s “purpose” of social justice. The court also notef that guerrilla warfare is not the same as terrorism.

Therefore, the court found, the actions in question are classified not as “terrorism” but “rebellion”. The Court distinguished between terrorism and rebellion using Lagman et al. vs. Medialdea, which stated that “terrorism is a broader term than rebellion; rebellion is only one of the many ways in which terrorism can be committed.”

The ruling is well-considered but the attacks on civil liberties are likely to continue. The proscription case against the CPP-NPA was on the basis of the Human Security Act. With the new draconian Anti-Terror Law now in place, the government will certainly abuse this to declare communist rebels and indeed everyone arbitrarily red-tagged as a terrorist.

Attacks on civil liberties, especially on those critical of the government’s policies, persist and impede people’s rights to democratic participation in governance and development. The exercise of constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms such as the right to associate, assemble, and freely express opinions and grievances are under siege.

There has also been a wave of extrajudicial executions of leftist activists, including human rights defenders, trade unionists, land reform advocates, and others.

The proscription dismissal in effect affirms the legitimacy of a wide range of efforts for social change up to and including armed struggle. It also stresses the importance and need for a peace agenda that considers the social basis of armed conflict: biased justice system, neoliberal framework of development biased for profit, and more. The systemic nature of the problem also exposes the inadequacy of localized peace talks and shallow measures such as the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (E-CLIP). Ultimately, a national issue cannot be solved through local methods, especially when its roots are systemic poverty and a lack of industrial and agrarian reforms.

The court decision also points to the unacceptability of arbitrary terrorist labeling and indiscriminate attacks on legitimate organizations by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

With the 4th cycle of the Universal Periodic Review on the Philippines human rights record drawing near, CPDG joins the vast number of civil society organizations calling on the Marcos Jr. administration to heed urgent recommendations on ensuring an enabling and safe environment for democratic participation in governance and development planning.

There must be a stop to red-tagging and repressive laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Act that inhibit people’s civil and political rights should be repealed. The extrajudicial killings, arbitrary/illegal arrest and detention, red-tagging, and other attacks on human rights defenders and civil society actors should be stopped. All political prisoners and detained human rights defenders should be released.

Perpetrators of violations against journalists, human rights defenders, and citizens exercising their freedom of expression should be held accountable. The peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines must resume.###